DOT Warns of Tweeting/Social Media Violations

In a sure to be controversial move, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken aim at social media violations of its rules. In a warning to airlines and other sellers of air transportation the DOT defined how additional taxes, fees and restrictions must be displayed in advertisements on Twitter, Facebook and other online social media sites.

This guidance will be used by the DOT to cope with its full fare advertising rule which prohibits unfair and deceptive practices, until January 24, 2012, when a new rule becomes effective, DOT says.

The DOT requires carriers advertising airfares to state the full price to be paid by the consumer. “In Internet advertising displays, including on social media sites, taxes and fees that properly may be stated separately from the advertised fare must still be disclosed, e.g. through a prominent link placed adjacent to the stated fare that notes that taxes and fees are extra.  The link must directly take the viewer to a pop-up or a place on a separate screen, where the nature and amount of taxes and fees are prominently and immediately displayed,” DOT says.

“Recently, we have noted air fare advertisements by carriers and ticket agents on social media sites that fail to comply with these policies. On Twitter, in particular, we have become aware of 'tweets' that contain advertisements for air fares that do not disclose either the nature and amount of taxes and fees that are excluded from the advertised fare or the existence of such taxes and fees,” DOT says.

“Given the constraint of 140 characters applicable to tweets, it may be difficult to provide the full disclosure required," DOT admits. "If full disclosure is not provided, Twitter postings, as with other website advertisements, must provide appropriate disclosure through a prominent link placed adjacent to the fare that notes that taxes and fees are extra."

"Tweets must clearly indicate that certain government-imposed taxes and fees are not included in the advertised fare, e.g., 'gov’t taxes/fees extra,' or '+gov taxes/fee,' and include a hyperlink that takes the viewer directly to a place on a separate screen where the nature and amount of taxes and fees are prominently and immediately displayed. Likewise, if a roundtrip purchase condition applies to an advertised each-way fare, this must also be disclosed in the tweet. We emphasize that these requirements apply to all social media sites,"DOT said.

“Website owners and air transportation advertisers should also be aware of new advertising requirements that take effect on January 24, 2012, pursuant to a recently adopted consumer rule. Under these new requirements, airlines and ticket agents must include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare. This full disclosure policy will apply to all sites, including social media sites,“ DOT says.

Visit www.DOT.gov

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